What to Expect after Cardiac Arrest
What is a Cardiac Arrest?
Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops working all of a sudden. It can be caused by an irregular, weak heart beat (arrhythmia). Sometimes the cause is unknown. When the heart is not working, blood is not being pumped. Blood carries oxygen to the tissues and organs of the body. If any part of the body goes without oxygen for a long time, it can be damaged or die.
When a cardiac arrest occurs, it is vital to restore blood flow to the body. The heart must be restarted. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and shocking the heart (defibrillation) need to occur quickly. If these are done soon enough, damage to the body and brain can be prevented or reduced.
Cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction (MI). A heart attack is caused by a blockage in one of the arteries of the heart. This can damage the heart muscle. It can lead to cardiac arrest.
What to Expect in the Hospital
When your loved one is taken to a hospital, he will be taken to the Emergency Department (ED). From there, he will be taken to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU). There will be a lot of activity going on in the ICU. Different types of equipment and medicines will be used to help your loved one. This is normal. The doctors and nurses have to move quickly to get the best results for their patients.
After a cardiac arrest, patients are often treated with a ventilator (breathing machine) and hypothermia. Hypothermia means the body’s temperature is below normal. This treatment is used to help reduce damage to the brain and other organs. Adults who stay in a coma after their heart is beating on its own again are cooled to about 33° C (89.6-93.2° F). Normal body temperature is 37.0° C (98.6° F).
Patients can be cooled from the inside or outside. Cooling on the inside is done with a thin plastic tube called a catheter. It is placed into a large vein in the groin. Cold water in this cools the patient quickly. The water stays on the inside of the catheter. It does not go into the patient’s vein. Cooling on the outside is done with ice packs and cooling blankets.
Your loved one will be given medicine that makes him sleepy. He will be given pain medicine to make him comfortable. He may also be given medicine that prevents him from moving and shivering. People shiver when their body temperature drops. This is a natural reflex to warm the body. Since the goal is to keep body temperature low, medicine may be given to prevent shivering.
Your loved one will be closely monitored. The nurses will check the vital signs often. They will keep track of his temperature with a probe. This probe will be placed in his bladder or rectum. The nurses will also check his skin, wrist restraints, and the amount of urine that he is making. If he is able to move his hands, your loved one may have wrist restraints. The restraints help to keep tubes and lines in place.
Once your loved one’s body temperature is low enough, he will be kept cool for about 24 hours. Other tests may be done during the cooling procedure. Blood will be drawn for testing. Medicines will be given as needed.
The Re-Warming Process
After the cooling period is over, your loved one is re-warmed. During the re-warming process, the equipment and medicines are weaned off as he improves. The nurses will closely monitor him. They will watch for changes in his brain and nervous system. It usually takes about eight hours for the re-warming process to be completed.
Often, patients do not remember what happened the day of the cardiac arrest or during the time that the ventilator is on. The patient may be confused. He may need to be reminded often of where he is and what time it is. The medicine he has received tends to cause some confusion and forgetfulness.
The doctor will discuss further treatments with you and your family. Each patient has different needs after a cardiac arrest. It is important that you ask questions when you have them.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 09/16/2011
Copyright © 09/16/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6583
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